Peter Denis Sutherland

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Peter Sutherland, Corporate globaliser, in 1998

Peter Denis Sutherland (born 25 April 1946) is truly one of the global elite. According to an academic study he is one of the six most central members of the Transnational Elite.[1] His CV includes many different stints in leading corporate and governmental positions, all taking him closer and closer to the apex of power and influence. Sutherland was a non-executive Chairman of BP (1997 - June 2009) and non-executive Chairman of Goldman Sachs International (1995 - 2010). His other corporate positions include board membership at Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson, Investor AB and ABB and the Royal Bank of Scotland (2001-2006).


Sutherland's ascent up the corporate ladder began after he abandoned his career in law for the heady mix of big business and high politics. Although he was appointed Attorney General in Ireland by then Taoiseach Garret Fitzgerald, he has never actually been elected to any public body or public office yet is one of the most influential global political figures in the last thirty years.

One little known detail of his career is that in 1973 Sutherland stood for election to the Irish parliament (Dail) in the constituency of Dublin North West for the centre-right Fine Gael. He received 6.24% of the, ‘popular’ vote, and came 10th in a field of 10.[2]

He was appointed Attorney General in Ireland in 1981 and then reappointed in 1982-4, at which point he was the Irish nominee to the European Commission, where he took on various Commission posts including responsibility for competition policy pushing corporate interests and making him an obvious candidate for work on corporate boards when he left the Commission. In 1988, he was the first EC Commissioner to be awarded the Gold Medal of the European Parliament, and was tipped to succeed Jacques Delors as President of the European Commission. He returned to the commercial world in 1989 as Chairman of Allied Irish Bank and the next year was appointed to the board of BP (1990-93). Following this stint in the corporate world he moved on to become the Director General of the GATT in July 1993 where he is said to have been ‘instrumental in concluding’ the Uruguay round helping to open up markets and then doing the same (from 1 January 1995 until the end of April 1995) when he became the founding Director General of the World Trade Organisation, to the advantage of transnational corporations such as … BP. At which point, in 1995, BP reappointed him to the board (becoming chair in 1997) and he became the chairman of Goldman Sachs International.

His roles mark him out as an extraordinary political influential, having key roles in all the major transnational lobby groups. He is on the steering committee of the Bilderberg Group, the European chairman of the Trilateral Commission (‘re-elected’ in 2003 for a second term), Foundation Board Member of World Economic Forum and a member of the European Round Table of Industrialists.

All of these bodies are central to the global power elite, but Sutherland also dips in to the world of the think tank and the lobby group having roles as President of the Trustees at the Federal Trust, a think tank pushing federalism and market liberalism and positively stuffed with Atlanticist operatives; President of the Advisory Council at the Brussels based and corporate funded European Policy Centre; Chair of the board of governors at the European Institute of Public Administration in Maastricht (1991-6). He is also on the board of the intelligence connected Centre for European Reform which is a lobby group closely associated with the American Enterprise Institute and particularly the (NATO- funded) Atlantic Council of the United Kingdom. It was previously part of the Stockholm Network of neoliberal think tanks. Sutherland is also well connected in the US elite, a director of the US based Atlanticist think tank, the European Institute (USA) along with a host of other neoliberal ideologues including former European Commissioners Jacques Delors and Etienne Davignon. He is also on the advisory board of the elite Council on Foreign Relations.

Sutherland is an Honorary President of the European Movement Ireland and in 2005, he was given a role as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation. A year later he scooped another UN position as the Secretary-General's special representative on migration. One wonders how he manages to fit it all in, but there's more. Sutherland also has the following affiliations: Chief Executive’s Council of International Advisers, Hong Kong; and Chairman of the Consultative Board of the Director-General of the World Trade Organisation.

Sutherland has a host of honorary academic degrees and is chair of the council of the London School of Economics (LSE.) He has been awarded the Grand Cross of Civil Merit (Spain 1989), and the Grand Cross of King Leopold II (Belgium 1989), the New Zealand Commemorative Medal (1990), Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur (France 1993), and Commandeur du Wissam (Morocco 1994), the Order of Rio Branco (Brazil 1996) and the Grand Cross of the Order of Infante Dom Henrique (Portugal 1998). He also received the David Rockefeller International Leadership Award (1998), and eventually picked up his British gong in 2004.

This remarkable CV testifies to Sutherland's political importance and influence, with wide-reaching connections across the transnational business and political classes. [3]

Corporate board member

He was a non-executive director of BP from 1990 to 1993 and rejoined the board in 1995, he was appointed chairman of BP in May 1997 until 2009.[4]

He was also Chairman of Goldman Sachs International (1995-2010). His other interests include a position as a non-executive director of Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson, Investor AB and ABB.[5]

Transnational corporate networker

He is on the steering committee of the Bilderberg Group, the European Chair of the Trilateral Commission and a member of the European Roundtable of Industrialists.[6][7] Sutherland is on the International Advisory board of the Institute for International Integration Studies and the intelligence connected Centre for European Reform.[8][9] In addition, he was on the advisory board of the US Council on Foreign Relations and the US Overseas Development Council, who work to emphasise 'America's national interests in multilateral engagement'.[10][11]

From a biography on the Trilateral Commission Website dated February 2009:

Before these appointments he was the founding Director-General of the World Trade Organisation. He had previously served as Director General of GATT since July 1993 and was instrumental in concluding the Uruguay GATT Round Negotiations. Prior to this position, he was Chairman of Allied Irish Bank from 1989 to 1993 and Chairman of the Board of Governors of the European Institute of Public Administration (Maastricht) 1991-1996.
Peter Sutherland, during his time at the European Commission
Educated at Gonzaga College, University College Dublin and at the Honorable Society of the King's Inns, from 1969 to 1971 Mr. Sutherland was a Tutor in Law at University College Dublin. From 1981 until early 1982 he was Attorney General of Ireland and was a Member of the Council of State. He was reappointed in 1982 until 1984 when he was nominated by the Government of Ireland as a Member of the Commission of the European Communities in charge of Competition Policy. During his first year at the Commission he was also responsible for Social Affairs, Health and Education and thereafter for Relations with the European Parliament. He serves on the Board of Directors of The Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc and is associated with the following organisations: World Economic Forum, foundation board member; The Federal Trust, President; European Policy Centre Advisory Council, President; European Round Table of Industrialists, Vice-Chairman; the Royal Irish Academy, member; goodwill ambassador to the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation; and consultor for the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See.

The October 2005 version of the biography reads:[12]

Career history

Peter Sutherland, Founding director of the WTO


EU Revolving Door.jpg This article is part of the EU Revolving Door project of SpinWatch.



  1. According to Carroll and Carson the other five are Bertrand Collomb, Minoro Murofushi, Percy Barnevik Paul Allaire and Etienne Davignon. See William K. Carroll Colin Carson 'Forging a New Hegemony? The Role of Transnational Policy Groups in the Network and Discourses of Global Corporate Governance' Journal of World Systems Research, Vol. 9 No. 1, Winter 2003.
  2. Elections Ireland, General Election: 28 February 1973, accessed 05 March 2010.
  3. WTO, Peter Sutherland, GATT and WTO Director-General, 1993 to 1995, accessed 05 March 2010.
  4. BP, "BP Selects New Chairman to Succeed Peter Sutherland," 25 June 2009, accessed 05 March 2010.
  5. Business Week, "GOLDMAN SACHS GROUP INC, Peter D. Sutherland S.C., K.C.M.G.," accessed 05 March 2010.
  6. Escobar, Pepe, "Bilderberg Strikes Again," Asia Times, 10 May 2005, accessed 05 March 2010.
  7. Trilateral Commission, Peter Sutherland, accessed 05 March 2010.
  8. Trinity College Dublin, Institute for International Integration Studies, accessed 05 March 2010.
  9. Centre for European Reform, Advisory board, accessed 05 March 2010.
  10. Free Library, The, " Names Peter Sutherland, Former WTO Director-General, to Board of Advisors; Former World Trade Organization Director-General to Support's Global Expansion," 19 April 2000, accessed 05 March 2010.
  11. Trilateral Commission, Peter Sutherland, accessed 05 March 2010.
  12. Trilateral Commission, Peter Sutherland, Web Archive 10 December 2005, accessed 05 March 2010.